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					Capitol Hill Briefing
Avian Influenza, the Environment and Migratory Birds
An Update on Key Findings and Risk Assessment
5th May 2006
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Capitol Hill, Washington DC                                                    Together for birds and people

John Flicker (President, National Audubon Society)
Peter Schei (Chair, BirdLife International Council; Director of the Frithjof-Nansen Institute, Norway)
Leon Bennun (Director of Science & Policy, BirdLife International)
Lim Kim Keang (BirdLife International Council, Chair of Nature Society Singapore)

John Flicker:
    Thanks to Senator Jeffords and Senator Chafee and their staff
    Purpose of the briefing:
          o Update of key findings and risk assessment on Avian Influenza (AI)
          o Sponsor for event - BirdLife International
                  Partnership of over 100 NGOs
                  Expertise on bird data
          o Goal: Minimize the risk of AI spreading to people
          o We need to know what AI is and how it spreads; good data saves lives
          o Need to provide best possible monitoring and surveillance; early detection saves lives;
              monitor outbreaks in poultry
          o Importance of funding
          o Global Avian Influenza Network Surveillance (GAINS) is now looking for second year
    Recognition of the work of the international conservation caucus

Peter Schei:
    Five dimensions involved in AI; it is necessary to work together across all of these
          o Health
          o Animal health
          o Environmental/ecological
          o Agricultural production
          o Trade/movements
    Need more research on ecology
    Need to know more about which species spread disease
    Many varieties of AI exist (144 different sub-types of the virus) – most are low-pathogenicity
    H5N1 has high pathogenicity
    Spread through both trade and migration
    H5N1 and other sub-types are subject to mutation and rapid change

Lim Kim Keang:
    Asian perspective: H5N1 in Asia for more than 10 years
    Affecting mostly domestic poultry; wild birds are not the main vectors
    H5N1 outbreaks would have followed all migration patterns if wild birds were main vectors
    In Asia, most likely sources are through poorly regulated movements of poultry and poultry
      products across borders (China to Vietnam, Vietnam to Myanmar, etc)
    H5N1 is becoming endemic among poultry in SE Asia.
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       Need more information when outbreaks occur to enable better way to monitor mode of
        transmission and help containment

Dr Leon Bennun
    BirdLife’s mission is for birds and people
    BirdLife is concerned about the impact of H5N1 on wild birds, but is even more concerned
      about how to help protect people and their livelihoods
    Needs good information with calm, balanced response to be effective
    The virus spread from Asia last year, travelling to the Black Sea, into Europe and Africa
    The cause of most of the movement is not yet known. The media attribute it to wild birds and
      migrations, but most movements mirror airport/road movements, not migration routes
    Virology shows at least 3 different strains coming from different sources
    Need much more data; many unanswered questions. Many bird species are mis-identified or
    Need information on how virus is shed by birds, and how they may have spread the virus
    Assumptions can be dangerous; it has been assumed that wild birds carry the virus
      asymptomatically; this is a weak and dubious assumption
    Concerned about conservation impacts of the virus, but many more wild birds die from botulism
      and salmonella
    Indirect impacts could be very substantial.
    It’s difficult to catch the virus – it’s not yet a general risk to general public.
    Many governments reacted by assuming outbreaks of H5N1 are on the way, carried by wild
      birds, but there is no clear rationale for this
    Some local and national governments assume it’s best to get rid of wild birds and their habitats,
      but that is very counterproductive. WHO, FAO, OIE clearly recognize this is counterproductive.
      This can even spread the virus more by dispersing birds. It’s negative for the environment and
      could increase the risk of spreading to humans
    A more balanced approach requires better information, better surveillance
    (We need to) be more proactive about monitoring
    Better collaboration needed among the different disciplines; lack of such collaboration is limiting
      our ability to learn more and reduce any risk.


Q: Give an example of the ways wild birds move to show it’s not related to the spread of the virus.
A: (Leon Bennun) If it was mainly spread by wild birds, we’d expect to see the virus occurring across
migration routes, but despite passage of many migrants that hasn’t happened. In early poultry
outbreaks in Japan and South Korea, it hasn’t reoccurred because they tightened bio security controls
on poultry and the virus hasn’t recurred. In Africa, West Africa outbreaks are attributed to illegal
movements of domestic poultry (2 different strains occurred there).

Q. Are there any plans to control trade of poultry?
A: (Peter Schei) There is no consolidated action, but governments are becoming more aware of porous
borders and are trying to tighten up. We don’t want to close borders more than necessary. We
urgently need to learn more about the role that international trade plays and how it can be mitigated.
A balance is required.

Q. What’s most important thing the US federal government can do?
A. (Leon Bennun) 1. Help countries tighten up on their bio-security for the poultry industry, including
compensation for farmers needing to cull poultry; 2. More surveillance and monitoring is needed, more
work on the ecology of wild birds, through the Global Livestock Early Warning System (GLEWS)

Q. What advice for backyard and garden bird feeders?
A. (Peter Schei) As long as people aren’t playing with birds very closely (children in Turkey were
playing with sick chicks); there is no increased risk from feeding birds.
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(Leon Bennun) Maintain the usual sensible hygiene – wash hands after handling bird feeders, etc.
There is only one confirmed case of catching the disease from wild birds – that was from swans having
their feathers plucked in Azerbaijan. Risk is tiny - don’t stop feeding wild birds in the gardens

Q. What responses have there been in different countries?
A. (Leon Bennun) In some countries, there have been sensible responses. France considered it as an
incident; keep people away from the infected area and it will die out. The wrong response (e.g. in
Vietnam, Indonesia, Russia) is trying to kill wild birds, draining wetlands, etc. Across Russia, the
Government says it is trying to cull wild birds – this is impractical and very damaging. It cannot be
recommended. Disproportionate responses have economic impacts – we must be careful.
(Peter Schei) In Norway it was decided to keep poultry inside when the virus came to Europe. Also, a
zoning plan was created where hunting would be excluded in the zone, etc. This is being relaxed now
that virus hasn’t arrived.
(Assad Serhal, Director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL); member of
BirdLife Council) The Lebanese Government banned hunting but had found enforcing the ban was
difficult until H5N1 scared hunters into not hunting. Experts are now providing the Government with
sensible advice, using information provided by the BirdLife website ( The Birdlife
website is providing up to date advice on AI which is being widely used by the public, governments,
and local authorities across the world.

Q. The US Government drew up a surveillance plan across the US blaming wild birds as the main
vectors. However, you say that wild birds are the main cause for the spread of the virus across
migratory routes. Do you recommend that the government redraws their surveillance plan and looks
more closely at poultry movements?
A. (Leon Bennun) Surveillance of wild birds is indeed very important. Although there is a potential for
migrating wild birds to spread the virus, the biggest risk by far of it coming into the US is through the
illegal importation of poultry and poultry products. Don’t stop monitoring wild birds, but a better
balance is needed.
(Peter Schei) Monitoring of both wild birds and of the illegal trade in poultry is needed, especially from
Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Don’t focus on just one vector.

Q. You say the risk of transmission to humans from wild birds is low. If it comes into wild birds in the
US, and if transmission is low, what is the real risk? How would it be transmitted to humans?
A. (Leon Bennun) The risk is very small, based on the evidence. The risk of other birds catching it is
much higher, especially through poultry movements. The key is good bio-security, knowing where the
virus is and securing poultry. Once it’s in the poultry population, it can be extremely expensive and
difficult to control. H5N1 affects poultry much more seriously than wild birds and people.

Q. About 20 million birds a year are banded by scientists, including large numbers of ducks in Asia.
Have there been any cases of banders catching H5N1?
A. (Leon Bennun) No banders have caught H5N1, but we recommend that good hygiene is maintained.
It is important to tie in banding work to sampling, with links to veterinary monitoring and GLEWS. We
will then be able to take a big step forward in our understanding of the disease.

Q. The US Government made a substantial contribution to AI through USAID and GAINS. Give us
more detail and the prospects for future support.
A. (Leon Bennun) We welcome this very positive move by the US government. The challenge is to
keep up the surveillance effort over a long period, as this disease will not go away. It will continue to
evolve and spread. We need a long term monitoring program, not just for a year or two. We need to
understand more about the virus and how it behaves in wild populations. The BirdLife Partnership
around the world, using its extensive networks of volunteers, is counting and banding, but is not yet
able to link into the virology and veterinary aspects.
(Peter Schei) We also need to be aware of other bird flu virus types which may mutate into a
dangerous strain. We need more research on how these viruses recur and mutate, which they have
done for many years. It’s necessary to have a broader approach.

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